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‘Tis the season that we, as gardeners, most look forward to… Spring which officially begins as the sun crosses directly over the equator at precisely 1:32 P.M. EDT on March 20th 2010. In the Northern Hemisphere this is our vernal equinox (equinox literal translation is “equal night”) and has historically signified the warming of soils, the greening of the land and, for many, an end to long and hungry winters. Today we welcome spring with passion but not necessarily the gardening work the winter season has left behind. Following are some helpful hints to help you better organize and efficiently perform your spring gardening tasks:
• This is the time to begin feeding your hungry lawn. Consider utilizing organic lawn foods that not only provide vital nutrients but also build beneficial soil microbes. Now is also the time to apply crabgrass control for those of you who had this grassy pest last season. ***Be careful NOT to apply crabgrass control where you intend to plant grass seeds this year. Crabgrass control will KILL GRASS SEEDS!
• Lawns take a beating every winter and this winter was more difficult than average. The depth and duration of snow cover will certainly mean snow mold fungus will be an issue this spring. Typically the blades of grass are affected but crowns and roots remain very much alive and well. Brown areas of matted turf should be lightly raked but not enough to disturb the crowns of the grass plants. As our soils warm the fertilizer will work its magic and the turf will return thick and green. Larger brown areas may be damaged more severely and would benefit from an application of lawn fungus control.
• Now is the ideal time for much of your tree and shrub pruning. There will always be some dead or broken branches to remove after winter and this is also the best time for thinning and structural pruning as well. Overgrown landscape plants can get a more severe pruning now and will most often quickly rejuvenate themselves. This is also the best time to prune your fruit trees and berry bushes.
• Most harmful insects have not yet emerged but it is an ideal time to begin controlling the most common insect problems. An application of dormant oil spray (very low toxicity and organic) provides a protective barrier against a wide range of pests including mites, borers and scale insects. Some of the plants that would benefit from a dormant oil spray include azaleas, rhododendrons, birch, roses, lilacs, viburnum, dogwoods, weeping cherries, fruit trees, pines and spruces.
• Are you thinking of transplanting any trees or shrubs this year? Most plants are very particular and need to be moved early in spring before the plants wake up and begin to grow. Soil conditions must be somewhat dry or you can really make a mess so timing is critical. Plan ahead so you can be ready when this narrow window of opportunity opens up.
• Many gardeners believe that planting peas in your vegetable garden on St. Patrick’s Day brings a year of good fortune but not if your soils are soggy. Although peas can be planted this early, steer clear of treading on wet garden soils. Other vegetables that can be planted extra early include lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage and onion sets.
• Test your garden soil pH now to ensure ideal nutrient availability to landscape and garden plants. Improper soil pH can lead to lack of plant growth and performance. Even the most inexpensive pH meters available provide accurate measurements and are extremely helpful. Ask your local gardening professional for advise on determining correct soil pH for specific plants and corrective measures necessary for optimal growth.
• Please do not confuse March Madness with Mulch Madness. Now is the time for the best in college basketball but not for spreading mulch in your gardens. Garden soils need to warm up and dry out before mulch is applied and this typically does not take place well into May and sometimes not until early June. For more immediate results, lightly cultivate the surface of existing mulch to provide the look of freshly mulched beds.
• Certain types of weeds have the ability to quickly grow and spread even in cold spring weather. Chickweed and ground ivy are now trying to take over your garden beds! Preventative applications of Preen or other germination inhibitors now can stop these pesky weeds from spreading. Pulling now, before they spread, will save time later.
• The snow plow guy has torn up your yard and there are ruts from all those people who can’t seem to back out of the drive… on the drive. Before you head out to patch things up it is important to know a few things. First, grass seed germinates only after the soil warms up so if you get out early don’t expect immediate results. Next, the topsoil you buy in bags usually isn’t real topsoil but a light-weight humus which is very good as a thin top-dressing but not good for filling deep ruts. Utilize heavier topsoil sold in bulk for filling trenches, low spots and large bare areas. Grass seeds need to penetrate the surface to properly grow so seed applied to compact soils or on top of existing turf will not thrive. Soil surfaces need to be scarified to allow for proper seed/soil contact and a slice seeder or thatching rake will allow seeds to penetrate stubborn lawn thatch.
Well there you have it… more than enough jobs to occupy your spare time for the upcoming weeks. As much as we may not enjoy these gardening tasks you should appreciate the fact that a timely and thorough job now can and will make your future garden endeavors less taxing and more fruitful.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!